Rios Trail via Gemma Parks Loop Trail + Holmwood Canyon Trail


  • DISTANCE (ROUND-TRIP): 1.2 miles

  • TIME: 30 minutes

  • HOURS: Sunrise to sunset


  • PETS/ANIMALS: Leashed dogs welcome

  • ENTRANCE: Rios Ave Trailhead   See map

  • CLOSEST PUBLIC TRANSIT: Solana Beach Transit  See map

  • PARKING: Street parking. Please remember that you are parking in a neighborhood, so keep all driveways clear and be respectful of neighbors. Please utilize waste and recycling containers at the trailhead. 

  • TERRAIN: Even path with slight inclines + declines.

At the intersection of ecology, San Diego, and birdwatching . . .

. . . you have the easy-going Rios Trail. Meander down a pleasant path with your camera and binoculars in tow. Each year, tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl visit San Elijo; they’re traveling the Pacific Flyway migration route, journeying along North America’s western coastline.

Hikers often spot a variety of birds along the salt marsh trail. After your nature walk, see how many birds you can identify in the Nature Collective Animal Guide! You can also view our bird count reports to get the latest scoop on our avian wildlife.

Keep an eye out for:

No. 1

Plant identification signs

positioned along the Gemma Parks Loop portion of the trail.

No. 2

Close-up views

of the estuary channels throughout San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.

No. 3

Great Egrets

which nest in trees near the wetlands and live at the San Elijo Lagoon year-round. More info

What to Expect

  1. Begin your hike next to the kiosk, where you find trash and recycling cans, as well as dog waste disposal bags.
  2. Starting with a decline, the trail leads you to a fork in the road.
  3. Go left at the fork and follow the Gemma Loop Trail, which brings you alongside the salt marsh.
  4. Midway through the loop, you can sit on a bench and watch any birds nearby.
  5. Keep following the loop, curving right. You’re heading west – and are on your way back to the trailhead!
  1. Soon there’s a trail to the left. Take this path until you reach Holmwood Canyon, where you find a bench situated beneath eucalyptus trees. The bench is dedicated to Gemma Parks, a dedicated conservationist who energetically contributed to saving Holmwood Canyon from development. You’re at the perfect place for rehydration, a snack, and relaxing in the shade.
  2. For your return journey: Retrace your steps on the same trail you followed to reach the bench.
  3. Turn left (i.e., west) when you reach the Rios Trail once again.
  4. Continue on this trail – and delight in the views of the Central Basin – until you reach the trailhead.

On your hike, you might see . . .

bush shedding fluffy white seeds

Coyote brush

Early settlers used these to sweep and even (we are told) as toothbrushes.

More Info

Western fence lizards

Because a cold lizard is a slow lizard, this one is often seen basking in the sun on fences, rocks, and posts.

More Info

More to Explore

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Harbaugh Seaside Trails

Check out our newest open space with expansive marine views – ideal for dog walking, sunset watching, and peaceful contemplation in nature.

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Nature Center

Nature Center

Begin Your Visit to the County LEED-certified Nature Center.

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Slot Canyon

Santa Inez Trail

For hikers seeking a peaceful getaway, this trail is ideal.

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